By Ricki Chavez-Munoz
The Observer is unquestionably one of the most respected Sunday newspapers in the world, and we are borrowing its headline (28 June) without the inverted commas that qualify the work done by the UK government on problem gambling.
Problem gambling in the United Kingdom is not the sole responsibility of the current Conservative Party administration, as this that goes back to the UK Gambling Act 2005 under the auspices of the Labour party, the other head in this two-party nation.
The last gambling legislation was prepared by free marketers in the so called ‘New Labour’ brand within the Labour Party, which was engineered by politicians seeking a middle way between socialism and capitalism but under the auspices of the right-wing media yellow press. Without going too much into the thinking behind this political brand, suffice to say that instead of building something better for society, its policies were more aligned with the interests of those who approved the illegal break up of Iraq and the current Middle East catastrophe.
Amongst the gems produced by New Labour free marketers were the changes to the 1968 Gaming Act to offer the country safer and more controlled gaming. Instead, the 2005 Gambling Act brought to the UK high streets uncontrolled gambling via Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – electromechanical gambling machines – with roulette games, where some people could lose money, family and business in a single sitting.
Branded as the “crack cocaine” of gambling FOBTs were operated with high limits, willy-nilly by thankful bookmaking firms whose only objective was directed to record revenues, without a second thought for the social devastation FOBTs caused to people or society.
After years of press, political and social campaigning, limits were lowered in FOBTs, but the damage done to society still shows the scars of such government irresponsibility.
As a free market tool, the 2005 Gambling Act also brought about online gaming as a free for all industry segment and, as day follows night, some operators sought to extract the most out of limp regulations by advertising products to the whole family, in some instances by directing products to children under the guise of family games, via seductive advertising.
The problem, however, is not with the industry, which mostly respects and complies with regulations. The problem lies with governments that fail to understand time and time again that an industry such as gambling cannot be regulated by people that do not understand what this industry entails.
It is a bit like having no surgeons or medical doctors in a government health service, or no lawyers to check on legal matters. Almost no government in the world makes use of the vast experience that gaming industry professionals have, and therein lies the problem with gambling.
Laws and regulations are made by outsiders looking in, without knowledge of the problems caused by uncontrolled gambling. The industry does not want problem gamblers for more than one reason, but principally because a problem gambler cannot be relied on for future business.
The Observer writes: “A report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee offers a critique of the failures by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Gambling Commission to help an estimated 395,000 problem gamblers in the UK and a further 1.8 million people who are considered at risk. The Gambling Commission, a non-departmental public body, took £19 million (US$23.4 million) in licence fees from gambling operators last year, less than 0.2% of the £11.3 billion (US$ 14 billion) gambling yield that year.
“The report accuses the department of being “unwilling to accept the premise that increasing the commission’s budget to prevent harm would be preferable to spending on treating problem gamblers.
‘What has emerged in evidence is a picture of a torpid, toothless regulator that doesn’t seem terribly interested in either the harms it exists to reduce or the means it might use to achieve that,” said Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee.